Air Force Core Values -- the challenge continues

  • Published
  • By Col. Christopher Thelen
  • 71st Mission Support Group
On Jan. 1, 1997, Gen. Ronald Fogelman spelled out the United States Air Force Core Values -- Integrity First, Services Before Self and Excellence in All We Do.
Presented as "The Little Blue Book," the former Air Force Chief of Staff discussed a "climate of ethical corrosion" within the service which had contributed to highly publicized scandals and fatal accidents.
General Fogelman clearly demonstrated how -- left unchecked -- "minor" breaches of Air Force rules and standards of conduct can become second nature, leading in time to major violations and misconduct.
Fast forward to 2006. On Feb. 13, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne, re-emphasized the spirit and intent of the Core Values, nearly a decade after General Fogelman first charged the Air Force to adopt a climate of "ethical commitment." It remains a critical message each member of our armed forces team needs to hear, understand and adopt in their daily life. Today's Air Force finds itself working hard to recover from several high-profile sexual assaults; from lacking a vital tanker aircraft replacement, in large part because of to improper management; and from suffering an average of 60 non-mission fatalities each year ... nearly all of which could have been avoided had people followed the rules. It just doesn't seem like we've fully embraced the message standing behind the Core Values and, as we saw in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, this is not solely an Air Force issue.
In each of these cases, I like to think the responsible people didn't fully consider the possible consequences of their actions, and perhaps felt they were only breaking "minor" rules, if any rules at all. Yet those actions and similar violations by other members of our U.S. armed forces team, have had enormous impacts on people's lives, careers and our nation as a whole. We simply have to come to terms with the fact that in a profession relying on the honor and competency of each member, there is no such thing as a small rule or a minor violation. At the right place or time, the smallest breach can bring down the tallest dam -- our nation, service and "wingmen" are depending on us to not inflict that damage.
Enlisted, officer or civilian, this is an issue crossing all lines within our total team. Mistakes happen, but when even one person deliberately cuts corners, they put us all at risk. Underage drinking, willful speeding, unwelcome sexual advances ... we can no more allow or tolerate these "everyday" offenses than we would driving under the influence, rape, drug use or blowing off a pre-flight checklist. Certainly, should a member err, our response must be proportionate to their offense. But no offense should be overlooked or tolerated, especially by friends and coworkers, or we risk leading the offender and our entire team down a path to greater problems with more tragic consequences in the future.
In the profession of arms where the trust and confidence of our nation is essential, we must hold ourselves and our teammates to a higher standard. Time and again, we have honorably earned that trust only to have it tarnished, in varying degrees, by a few members' misconduct. If a rule doesn't seem fair, or a member has a better way to get things done, there are legitimate means through which to get that rule fixed.
However, until that change is made, we are duty-bound to follow that rule, obey that law or properly exercise that standard of conduct, and to demand the same of our teammates. To again quote The Little Blue Book, "Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in All We Do. These are the Air Force Core Values. Study them ... understand them ... follow them ... and encourage others to do the same."
For more information on the United States Air Force Core Values or to read The Little Blue Book, visit